Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Zaitsev's Game 1 Absence Throws Maple Leafs' Defence in Uncertainty

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Zaitsev's Game 1 Absence Throws Maple Leafs' Defence in Uncertainty

Article excerpt

Zaitsev's absence big blow for Leafs

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TORONTO - The Maple Leafs won't have their biggest minute-eater from the regular season available to play Game 1 against the Washington Capitals, and Toronto head coach Mike Babcock is still trying to figure out what to do about it.

Babcock said Nikita Zaitsev, who logged 22 minutes per-game as a rookie this season, would be out for Thursday's opener against the Capitals and perhaps longer. The 25-year-old was shaken up in the Leafs regular season finale Sunday night after a loud hit from Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno.

Toronto said he suffered an upper-body injury on the play, declining to say if he suffered a concussion.

"The great thing about this medical department is I don't deal with that part," Babcock said. "They just tell me he's not available to go. He's got an upper-body injury."

Babcock was hopeful Zaitsev could play in Game 2 on Saturday, if hardly certain after the defenceman sat out a second straight practice on Wednesday morning.

"I don't know 100 per cent for sure," said Babcock. "I thought he was going to skate today, (but) he didn't skate today so obviously he wasn't ready to go."

His absence is crushing to the Leafs defence, which was hard-pressed at full-strength even to slow down the NHL's third-highest scoring team.

Zaitsev spent his entire first season in the NHL on Toronto's top pair. He matched up against first lines, killed penalties and quarterbacked one power play unit. He finished second on the team's defence with 36 points.

Babcock experimented with different defence combinations for the second consecutive day ahead of Game 1. He reconnected two former pairings: Jake Gardiner with Roman Polak and Morgan Rielly with Matt Hunwick.

Martin Marincin, who hasn't played since March 14, was also officially penned into the lineup, potentially with Connor Carrick. …

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